Where does your meat come from?
Find it hard to resist a big, fat, juicy steak or a delicious burger? Maybe chicken is your weakness, or perhaps you enjoy a Sunday roast? There's nothing wrong with eating meat – it provides us with iron, is a great source of protein and it's tasty too. But it's important to know where your meat comes from (you'd be surprised how many of us have no idea), so that you can make an informed choice about what you're buying. This is important not only for your health, but also for the environment. We thought we'd take a look at a few ways you can be a more ethical carnivore, if turning vegetarian doesn't appeal!
Did you know that our appetite for meat is increasing? People in developed countries consume roughly their own body weight in meat every year – that's around 224g every single day (1). The meat industry would have us believe that meat is a super-healthy choice – some companies have even claimed that our carnivorous side is the reason that human brains have grown faster than any other animal. If that was the case, wouldn't big cats be ruling the planet?
It's true that meat contains important nutrients such as iron, amino acids and zinc, but whilst you may not get the same satisfaction from a plant-based diet, you can get all these nutrients from a vegetarian or vegan diet, so there's really no need to eat meat. In recent years, meat has become more affordable than ever before, mostly due to factory farming.
I'm sure not many of us stop to think about how eating meat affects the environment, when we're shopping for turkey mince for meatballs, a juicy steak or a joint for a Sunday roast. But eating meat has a significant impact on the environment – over 50% of global greenhouse gases caused by humans are attributable to livestock and their by-products (2). The consumption of meat and dairy products also contributes to poverty and starvation in developing countries. We grow enough grains to provide enough (plus 50% extra) to feed everyone in the world, yet much of this is used to feed animals for the production of meat, eggs and dairy.
Factory farms – unethical and unpleasant
If you just can't give up your meat habit, at least do us a favour – make sure you're aware of where your meat comes from and try to make ethical choices. Factory farming is sadly all too common nowadays, as producers try to save money and increase their profits. Livestock is raised in confined spaces, crammed together in unsanitary and unpleasant living conditions. In some countries such as Australia, factory farming is the main method of farming used. Let's take a look at some of the expected natural lifespans for animals raised for slaughter, and how early they are killed for food.
- Cattle – Cattle naturally live to be around 25 years old, yet sadly most of them are slaughtered at around 12 to 18 months old
- Egg-laying chickens – Most chickens can live for around 8 to 12 years, yet they're slaughtered at around 18 months old
- Pigs – We all love a bacon sandwich as an occasional treat, but stop to think about this; whilst pigs naturally live for around 10 to 12 years, they are generally as young as 4 to 6 months old at the time of slaughter
What can you do to change this?
As consumers, we have the power to say 'no' when it comes to factory farming, and we can choose ethically farmed meat. It means animals are still slaughtered, but they will have happier, healthier lives, which means higher-quality meat that isn't pumped full of hormones. If supermarkets don't make a profit selling factory-farmed meat, eventually the demand for supply will drop. Here are a few tips which can help you to source ethically-farmed meat and make changes to the way you shop:
- Look online for ethical meat suppliers
- Only purchase free-range, organic or biodynamic meat from your local butchers
- Buy your meat at organic farmers' markets in your area, and always ask about how it has been farmed
- Don't assume that meat has been ethically farmed just because you're enjoying a meal in a fine dining restaurant – always ask
- Try cutting back your intake of dairy products. Buy cheese, milk and eggs from local organic dairy farms
- Always buy free-range eggs and try to support smaller local producers wherever you can, or buy your own chickens and enjoy knowing your eggs have come from happy hens!
- Wherever possible, choose grass-fed animals over grain-fed, to minimise environmental impact
- Choose eco-friendly meats and fish. Meat such as wild hare and rabbit has less of an environmental impact than farmed beef and lamb, for example
Making some small changes to the way you source and shop for meat, and advising friends and family to do the same, really can make a difference, not only to the environment and to the lives of animals, but also to your health and well-being.
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